by Fred McMillin
for December 17, 1999


Winery of the Week

Good News and Bad News


The Bad News

The two brothers from Scotland were off to a great start. Using the first wine press driven by a gasoline engine in the Napa Valley, they produced 50,000 gallons of wine in 1890, their first vintage. University-educated William Rennie, and his brother, James, had invested their savings in this New World adventure. But yields of grapes from the vineyard they had purchased began to diminish. Suddenly it dawned. The deadly phylloxera insect had struck. Then the winery was gutted by a raging fire. Wine would not be made there again for 80 years. (from William Heintz's fascinating Wine Country, A History of Napa Valley)

The Good News

"Jerry Komes was a self-made man, who worked his way up from the bottom to become the first president of the Bechtel Corporation who was neither a member of the family nor had a college degree. The work ethic which has led to this success has been passed on to his children, Julie and John...which exlains why the Flora Springs winery has accomplished so much in such a short time." (from James Halliday's Cal. Wine Atlas) What did the family do when dad retired? They bought the remains of the Rennie Brothers winery, and expanded its vineyards to 450 acres...and just in time. This was in 1977 when Napa Valley wineries totaled only 51. Four years later there would be 110 wineries seeking land and grapes.

Julie Komes Garvey

Julie Komes Garvey

"All I Want Is A Darn Good Wine" (Julie Komes Garvey)

I first met Julie on Jan. 29, 1990 at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco (photo). She was a featured speaker at the American Institute of Wine and Food introducing wines from the two dozen California vintners that had formed the Meritage Association...blends of Bordeaux varietals. Being in charge of Flora Springs' sales, she had gotten her wish of "having darn good wines to market." Her Flora Springs Meritage, the 1987 Trilogy, was one of the night's best.

Later I conducted a tasting with leading San Francisco sommelier Andrew Dombrowski. Trilogy was his choice for the top red Meritage (blends not dominated by a single varietal, so they may not be labelled with the name of one grape). It was hardly an accident that the Meritage was so good.

Jim Woods of the San Francisco Examiner praised the people, including winemaker Ken Dies, as being "incredibly talented." Here's a thumbnail of some of the other wines they've produced.

    Chardonnay—FIVE stars, by James Laube, his highest rating.
    Soliloquy (Sauvignon Blanc)—This wine stands so far apart from the 3,756 Sauvignon Blancs in my cellarbook, that I have to find some new adjectives for it. Instead of thoughts of a green, grassy, herbaceous field, it's a drying summery meadow, with hints of floral perfume. (Sterling critic Bob Thompson)

Conclusion—Ask your wine shop for one of Julie's Gems.


The winery name? Mrs. Komes name is FLORA.
Credits—Research Assistant Diane Bulzomi

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin


Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.


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